A while back, travelling in Egypt, I met a guy who had been shot by some dope growers. They were locals who saw him walking in the hills near their crop, took a pot shot (so to speak), nicked his leg, and then realised when he ran off that this guy – Ahmed – was the grandson of the local big-wig.
Ahmed came from Bedouin stock – he had green eyes and pale skin – and told me this story while we were camping out in the desert (we’d just finished dessert). This had all happened when he was a teenager… I thought at the time that it was funny how he chose to illustrate what a big-wig his grandfather was by pointing out that he owned not one – but two kalashnikovs.
Anyway, the dope growers realised they had done something stupid and turned up at the grandfather’s to apologise, and what happened was this.
The grandfather thought long and hard, then named a considerable sum of money as the make-good price for taking shots at his grandson. He gave the offenders a week to get the money, then when they’d scraped it all together the whole bunch of them – the pot growers, the family they’d borrowed the money from, the grandfather, Ahmed, Ahmed’s family… everyone who had been affected by the incident got together, put the money in a pile, set fire to it, made tea over the flames, drank it together, and that was that: issue over.
I was really struck by how wise it was dispensing justice like that. Yeah, it’s a hell of a waste of money, but then no-one sat simmering on their resentment for the next twenty years while someone else drove around in a fancy new car bought with bad cash…
It made me think that people in Egypt, and I guess the Middle East in general, have a hell of a lot going for them. I was struck by what gracious, smart, considerate people Egyptians were – but also by how few options go-getting types like Ahmed had – so I’m vaguely hopeful at all the chaos that’s been happening there this week. It’s like the whole country has been held back for the last 30 years, and now they’re getting a chance to change it. Sure, people will worry about the country going to the dogs, but there are a lot of smart people in Egypt.
I reckon things will turn out fine. (And that Ebaradei seems a good kind of bloke).